Busy doing nothing 



By Black Edward


HAVE you suffered the inconvenience of sub-standard services lately and there were no responsible officials to report the matter to? You are not alone.

Most people go through this ordeal daily. Enduring bad attitude, poor workmanship, digital hiccups, unnecessary delays, long queues, dry taps, blackouts, craters in roads and so on with no explanation whatsoever is frustrating. The experience can be quite depressing.

The responsible officials have been terribly busy this year to attend to the dramatically deteriorating service delivery system across all sectors in the country. I’m not sure busy doing what, exactly.

Busyness is now an excuse for not being on the ground, for not meeting people — whom the officials are supposed to represent — yet effective communication and engagement are central to quality service. Communication and being on the ground also help the official in clarifying policies. For example, by not being on the ground you don’t notice unplanned settlements mushrooming. “Waking up” after houses are roofed and occupied is a sign of ineptitude.

Let’s not forget that the components that bolster a functioning society (housing, healthcare, education, proper roads, an effective rule of law, telecommunications, resources, potable water) require constant attention. There’s no way an official can discuss matters such as tip-top services, long-range planning, policy formulation and survival strategies in board meetings or Parliament when they’re never on the ground.

When top officials say they’re too busy to meet us, we get the feeling that they are saying, “I don’t have time to waste”. If this is what they are saying then it’s absurd. It means the officials are clueless of the obligations their offices are tasked to fulfil. Of course we know that some of them are a little short in the common sense department. If the government is paying them per brain cell, it probably is owed a very huge chunk back as change.

Conmen, especially those in Harare, take advantage of the officials’ ineptitude.

When a top official engages in a deal that we find baffling we assume that corruption is the sole motive. Yes, the brown envelope will have passed under the desk, but ineptitude is also at play.

Ineptitude, in my view, is worse than corruption. A top official making a decision when he doesn’t know what he’s doing is, to put it bluntly, a total disaster.

Corrupt officials who don’t know what they’re doing make stupid mistakes and ruin everything. An incompetent official can mean the erosion of the things that keep a country grinding on a daily basis.

Think of the consequences of turning critical wetlands into business premises or a housing development.

It’s very clear, working for a service organisation or government demands integrity and should be a 24/7 job.

In a different scenario — say one urgently needs a crucial document and the process takes unnecessarily long owing to ineptitude on the part of those tasked with processing these documents, one may be forced to take the corruption route; pay and jump the queue — a sad state of affairs indeed. Ineptitude, no doubt, is the progenitor of corruption and both should be shunned!

Back to being busy: I’ve forgotten whom, but someone once said a person who is productive is also a person who might be busy, but a person who is busy is not always a person who is productive. I can’t agree more. In fact a busy person is someone who wastes too much time doing meaningless tasks that prove costly in the end.

Busy officials cry about how little spare time they have and their myopic world view means they only measure hours of activity not results. They want to be valued for their busyness, not for value addition.

Productive officials make time for what is important and are valued for their output.

While competent officials cause high levels of trust, engagement, and productivity, incompetent ones spread hopelessness.

In order to understand ordinary people’s views and priorities, officials have to build strong relationships and encourage ordinary people to make their views known. In fact these officials should feel obliged to consult ordinary people.

Representing ordinary people is hard work because of the tasks that have to be fulfilled.

Because they were appointed or elected, charged with certain roles and hold an office of authority, top officials should realise their line of duty dictates that they must make time for diverse ideas and remain loyal to the real stockholders — the people.

Permanent secretaries will this month sign performance-based contracts in implementing the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1), a five-year economic blueprint expected to spur economic growth in our country. That’s the way to go.

However, performance-based contracts should not be limited to perm secs or focus on NDS1 only but should cover all officials and their different roles.

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